Interviewed by Vanessa Broadbent.
Since many students will be voting or taking an interest in municipal politics for the first time, what would you describe as the role of municipal politics? What can city councillors actually do?
The six members of the council form essentially a board of directors with the leadership of the mayor that makes decisions based on staff recommendations. There’s the entire organization of the city of Chilliwack, which provides staff reports on various issues and spending. The core is our parks and recreation, police, fire, sewer, roads, transportation, transit, and we make decisions based on the budget that we set for ourselves. We set the budget and throughout the year, we make decisions on spending priorities, and sometimes we make adjustments. Typically, we meet once a year and we call it a budget retreat where for three days we are locked away and we put everything on the table, all our wants and needs of the different departments, and we prioritize them. We look at the budget and how much money we have to spend, we make decisions, and prioritize.
From a student’s perspective, how does that affect you? An example of that would have been several years when [UFV’s CEP campus] was an armed forces base and Canada Lands took ownership of it and the federal government to redevelop the city of Chilliwack through CEPCO. We purchased it and sold a portion of it back to UFV because we felt very strongly that UFV needed to have a significant presence in Chilliwack. That was a big risk, it was not standard for municipal but we felt that it was very worthwhile for our young people and adults to study close to home. Since then we’ve made changes to our bus routing and added busses to the routing to accommodate UFV. An exciting change this coming next year, April 6, 2015, is the Fraser Valley Express which is a bus linking Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Mission, and Langley. It plugs into the commuter station right beside the highway in Langley. That’ll be a link for commuters and people that are studying. It’ll be tying into Trinity Western and UFV in Abbotsford and Chilliwack. It’s an exciting time. I’m glad to see that students are engaging and paying attention.
Who do you view as your constituents?
Who engages with me the most would be the seniors and youth of the community. I have four children and they and their friends tell me things of what they would like to see done: [for example] skate parks, bicycle parks, or paths. Seniors are a demographic that’s surprising because we think of seniors as caring for themselves or caring about issues affecting them and they don’t; they’re worried about the youth. Quite often, when you talk to youth, they’re worried about the seniors. It’s a heartwarming thing. No particular demographic is my constituent, but I would say that being in business I tend to think a lot more along the business line of equations. I think in a business-like fashion and I’ve become a go-to person being an incumbent, a lot of the business community come to me when things are going sideways or there’s a need.
How will you receive or gather the views and desires of the entire population instead of just those most active around City Hall?
We have on a regular basis, usually in the spring and fall, established a committee called the rural issues advisory committee. What we do is we go into the communities of neighborhoods like Yarrow, Greendale, Rosedale, and Ryder Lake and we have town hall meetings. What we do is the various departments set up their display boards and talk about projects that they’re working on, things that they’re fixing, and things that they’re building in the upcoming years. We have a communications person at city hall who very actively engages people through social media and email. When there are issues, people let us know and it’s by phone or email. We get a lot of emails because it’s easy to detail things out but I feel we do a really good job of reaching out and drawing people in, not just the loud people with issues.
Are you doing anything to address the lack of student interest in local politics?
We have a very active local education system in school district 33. We engage through going to leadership classes, speaking to student populations any chance we get at Sardis and Chilliwack Senior. Rosedale Traditional School had us speak to students as well. Just engaging them and telling them about City Hall and what City Hall does. We often entertain student groups at City Hall. They’ll come into chambers and we’ll give them a presentation of what a city does and doesn’t do. We’re very active in that role because it’s important that people understand and know what their City Hall is there for and what services are provided by the city.
How did what you were doing at city council change over the three years compared to what your initial goals were during the last campaign?
Several of our goals were accomplished. Several goals have not been accomplished; they are long-term goals. One of my dream goals has been to create greater interconnection between pedestrian and bicycle routs to provide the options for people to get to their home to transit systems so they can take a bike or they can walk. Several years ago, we introduced bike racks. Simple little fix to our transit mess is that you can put your bike on the front of the bus. The take by the community has been tremendous. A lot of people are using that system. The Vedder Rotary Trail seems like it’s been there forever but it’s only twenty years old and we continue to enhance it but we’re connecting more paths into it. We have the subside trail on the Yarrow side that we’re connecting to it. Those are the kind of projects that we like to see continued to create more and more walk ways, connectivity that you don’t have to jump into your vehicle to go to town, you do have other options that if you chose to bike or walk, you could safely.
The other priority, one that is ongoing unfortunately, is crime and public safety. That seems like a project you’re never done. There are always those that through choice or not choice of their own are involved in crime. Ninety percent of crime is related to drugs and we have a fairly strategic prolific offender focus with the RCMP. There are 17 prolific offenders within Chilliwack and in our region and they get monitored pretty carefully because they’re the ones that are doing ninety percent of the crime. That’s an ongoing issue that we just continue to hammer at. To me, that’s one of my priorities and always has been. We’ve driven crime down. There are a couple of different reasons for that. A lot of the criminals are getting older and they’re getting tired and changing their forms of crime and thankfully, a lot of our youth are better educated and staying away from drugs and they’re not getting involved so it’s a generational thing and we’re hoping that crime continues to go down. It’ll always be with us but it’s something that we have to chip away at.
Do you have a specific project or bylaw you want to prioritize and change/put into effect?
The 2014-2024 bicycle network plan: that was approved on May of 2014 by council. It’s very aggressive. I’m referring to the pedestrian and bicycle pathways, that’s a plan that I would like to see advanced and funded so that can happen sooner rather than over ten years.
How will you actually propose this change, pay for it, and involve the community?
It’s a budgetary item so the plan is written and it’s available on our website. It’s really awaiting funding. In order for us to advance the plan, we would have to get cooperation from the province to advance money. Hopefully they’re doing better fiscally next year and if not we would have to put full dollars to make this project happen. We have to be careful with it because we have to balance the needs of diking, roads, drainage, parks and recreation, police, fire, and all the different areas of need. We have to balance that carefully but if we have additional money coming in from new developments paying into the system, essentially more people paying taxes, we can advance some of those projects and prioritize that way.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.